JANUARY 7 — So 2018 is here and, for the most part, it looks a lot like 2017 — cloudy with a high chance of rain.
Through the monsoon clouds and morning rain, here are my predictions for the Lion City in 2018.
More money... more jobs
Some of us are going to get a lot richer. After a wobbly few years, Singapore’s economy is back on the growth path.
Economic growth has rebounded in 2017 to over 3 per cent and this momentum is expected to hold through 2018.
As growth in the US and EU accelerates, stock markets worldwide are soaring. Aggressive tax cuts in the US are likely to further drive growth in some of the world’s largest companies which should see Singapore boosting exports.
As the economy picks up, there will be an inevitable scramble for talent with companies looking to fire growth with skills.
This will exacerbate Singapore’s long-standing labour crunch as our policy makers decide whether they should relax curbs on foreign employment and immigration (good for the economy but unpopular) or not.
While stronger growth and more employment are basically good news, the reality is surges in stock prices etc will disproportionately benefit the wealthy — people with stocks, property and big bonuses — but those at the bottom of the ladder are unlikely to see similar gains, so look to see our already substantial inequality widen.
More expensive homes (or better returns on your investment)
Depending on where you are on the property ladder, this can be either good or bad.
But as the economy accelerates and companies and individuals have more money to spend, it looks like the property market which has been stagnant for the last few years will begin to rise — sparking more construction and rising prices.
Good if you’re a property developer but bad if you are worried about your favourite old hawker store or block (redevelopment is going to look much more attractive to the government and developers).
Also, bad if you’re renting an office or living space; landlords anticipating rising demand are going to look to hike rents ASAP.
Changes at the top
Now drastic political change is not on the cards in Singapore in 2018 but there will be some change, at least in terms of the senior leadership.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said he will not seek re-election and his popular deputy Tharman Shanmugaratnam has also ruled himself out of the race to be the nations’ fourth prime minister.
Both of these leaders have insisted Singapore’s next generation leadership will come from another, younger generation — the “4th Generation” of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
So, all eyes are now on the party’s small number of young heavyweights.
This group largely entered Parliament in the last decade and tend to be around 50 years old so there is concern that they don’t have the experience to take control of the country.
The three main contenders are ministers — Heng Swee Keat, Chan Chun Sing and Ong Ye Kung — and it is not clear which of them will take the reins.
In the past, succession in Singapore has been handled via consensus within the ruling party and it’s been relatively easy to discern the next in line but this time there is no visible front runner.
However it is expected that this year we will see the appointment of a new Deputy Prime Minister and it is this man (no woman in sight) who will likely be Singapore’s next leader.
The Poison Shrimp will have to fight harder
The only certainty in terms of international relations in 2018 is that things will be uncertain.
Singapore has long been a shrimp punching above its weight in terms of regional diplomacy but the big fish in the surrounding waters are growing bigger, more ferocious and less predictable.
China is asserting itself across the region but the US, under its new leadership, doesn’t seem willing to bow out of the Asian theatre and Japan and India too have become more active in the region.
So, our leaders will have to navigate these dangerous waters leveraging on our neighbours for strength and trying to keep out of the orbit or the jaws of the circling monsters.
One thing I will say with certainty: nothing is going to alleviate the Causeway jam. The long-awaited SG-KL highspeed rail won’t be completed until at least 2025 and in the meantime I see absolutely no interim solutions proposed by either government so getting to Malaysia is going to continue to be a tremendous pain.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.